Monday, 25 February 2019

Donkey is back and freezing

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze



Platform tested: Switch
Also on: Wii U
Released: 2018
Originally released: 2014

Review



Introduction


Yet another Wii U port to review here, this time it's the sequel to Donkey Kong Country Returns (2010) on the Wii. Tropical Freeze was originally released in 2014, and as a bonus they have added a easy mode in form of a new member to the Kong family; Funky Kong. He works as a super easy mode for players struggling. Otherwise the game is identical to the Wii U game in content, although boosted resolution wise.

I'm a huge fan of the original Donkey Kong Country games on the Super Nintendo, DKC1&2 are masterpieces for their generation. The Wii return of the series' classic 2D platforming is something I only briefly tested back in 2010 and since then never played again. Luckily Tropical Freeze has been ported over from the Wii U and I got to sit down with the game and dig in. While it does bring back some classic DKC vibes, I'm not sure if it's a substitute or brings back how I felt playing the old games. It's nice platformer though on it's own though, so lets take a look.





Plot and setting 


The game's intentional but rather contradicting title of tropical places freezing up, is all about a gang of viking enemies from the icy north attacking DK's jungle and home islands. The setting brings out some interesting level designs as they are set in lush palm beaches, jungles and savannas, yet are speckled in ice and snow from the intruders. Every island the game takes place on has it's own distinct environment style and ends with a boss fight level. There are multiple routes to gain access to the next level at times, requiring you to find and discover hidden exits to the levels. Otherwise the layout is familiar to DKC veterans alike; completing a level lets you move to the next and so on.


Gameplay and features 


Gameplay is also familiar DKC fashion; fairly precise and fast platforming, with a little sluggish style to the bigger characters movements. Momentum builds rather gradually, but feels suited to the level design. I like how the levels now can switch from land to water on the fly, with the music switching when you dive under water. It's neat and makes the variation within each level even greater. For fun there are of course hidden banana collection challenges, which I found amusing at first, but ultimately became repetitive as they recycle 4-5 layouts of them. The mine cart, flying and silhouette levels are a nice variation and a welcome change of style and pace.

There are a ton of levels in DKCTF, a little too many at times for my taste, especially all the hidden stuff in each level gets a bit much out of hand. Each islands environment outstays it's visual welcome and the somewhat sparse variation make many of the levels blend into each other. I found the old DKC games to have more distinct levels separated either visually or mechanically from each other. Sure, it makes the game larger and more padded with levels, but it also lets repetitiveness and blandness sink in. 


Graphics and technical


Visually I found the game appealing, the tropical setting is well represented with a lot of detail going on, though never being too cluttered to focus on the 2D gameplay. It has a more subtle textured and pastel coloured style to it than the old DKC's though. As such it doesn't really bring me back to those games visually, but it holds it's own style nicely and consistent throughout.

Just like other Wii U ports, DKTF goes from a resolution of 720p to a 1080p on the docked Switch. Further enriching the visuals to more detail in higher resolution. Handheld mode the game stays in 720p. Game runs at a sharp 60fps too.


Sound and music


For an old and big fan of the old DKC 1&2 music scores it was important that this was done right for me. Luckily the music hits the right spots and brings back David Wise to compose. He succeeds in taking the nostalgic DKC tunes and styles to the music score and updates them with a more advanced and modern sound. Solid music, though it never reaches the heights of DKC1&2's for me.

Nothing much of note on the sound department, it's just like you'd expect with the aforementioned cool feature of switching music and more underwater styled sounds as you dive from water to underneath the sea.






Summary


I found the game extremely hard and ended up having to play it on Funky Kong mode. Be aware that you can't switch to funky kong at a later stage. Perhaps it's my tighter time schedule as an adult that makes the game seem harder. It seems like a rewarding game to progress in though as it has a huge amount of levels to unlock if you are really enjoying it. 

Coop is sadly not like how the old DKC game were or the modern NSMB games; it's like Sonic. Player one decides where the screen focus goes and player two must simply follow and keep up or the fall out of the screen. Really disappointing. Where is the old DKC style where you switched for each life or hit on the two characters you played?

Viewed on it's own this is a great platformer, and clearly a better continuation of the first game on Wii. Together with it's David Wise score it goes closer to what DKC was before than the Wii game. It's a colourful and charming ride with so much hidden stuff in each level to discover that it will keep you busy for hours. As a continuation of the old DKC trilogy on SNES though, I am a little undecided. It just doesn't trigger that classic DKC CGI aesthetic and it's darker tone, then again does it need to? 

At the end of the day though the game deserves to be reviewed as it's own title regardless of it's legacy, it's a solid 2D platformer and recommended for those seeking such a genre on the Switch. Be warned that the game is very hard, but enduring through will reward you with a large amount of levels.

Rating

★★★★

Friday, 22 February 2019

Virtua Rally?!

V-Rally 4




Platform tested: Xbox One X (enhanced)
Also on: PC, PS4 and Switch
Released: 2018

Review


Introduction


You wouldn't be blamed for looking twice when V-Rally 4 was announced earlier last year and released later that same year. Like a ghost from the past and a odd decision to revive such an old franchise. It didn't go unnoticed by me though as I have played most of the earlier V-Rally games.

In fact I was a bit of a fan of the series, although they never were quite perfect titles, if not a little quirky at times, they were good fun and kept rallying at an accessible and entertaining arcade and simulation midway. A sort of middle road between the likes of Sega Rally and Colin McRae Rally back in the 90's. So while I didn't know what to expect from this release or what it intended to be, I had to check it out eventually.





Plot and setting 


One could say the first V-Rally lends a lot of inspiration from Sega Rally, but it was built for home gaming and not arcades, with far more tracks and cars. V-Rally 2 saw a huge leap in scale; various modes to race, lots of unlocables, more matured graphics and even a track editor! However the V-Rally series changed quite a bit from 1 & 2's arcade roots, to a more serious and simulation style in V-Rally 3. Gone were the many rally race types with multiple car races and in it's place single races against the clock, just like real life rally.

V-Rally 4 settles for a middle ground between these styles. It can be dialled up to a simulation experience, but also wind down to a more easy and care free arcade-ish racer. It's about having a care free and fun rally experience, but also feeling like it isn't completely arcade madness either. Despite this uncertainty as to what it is, VR4 brings back the vibe of the old games strangely enough.


Gameplay and features 


The handling is what in VR4 surprisingly reminded me of how the old games controlled; fairly easy to grasp but a bit on the over sensitive side, bordering on being twitchy. It takes a few races to get used to, but once you grasp the handling model things pick up pace. Though the game never lets you feel completely comfortable behind the wheel, it always has that sensitive touch that will punish you hard if you screw up a turn. That said it's nowhere near the super twitchy first game, man that was a beast to tame.

The main mode in VR4 features a world map. Here your rally career takes place and I'm happy to say that this mode is more interesting than you would first expect. You rent in a manager, mechanics and engineers, these will in turn help to fix cars midway in cups or unlock upgrade parts for your cars. Dealers sell various car types for suiting the race types on offer. The game is divided in a week, with the days being spread out on cups and events spread across the world. When the week has ended it's payday for your hired crew and a new week begins with races to attend.

The game tailors the types of races on the map towards what you seem to choose most often. I quite liked this as I preferred certain race types to others. The types of races offered are straight up rally races against the clock with a co-driver, super fast hill climbing events (these are very fun), buggy races, gymkhana show off races and rally cross. It's a nice selection, if not a bit standard after all the Dirt racing games from Codemasters. In fact, VR4 lends itself a lot of inspiration from the older Dirt games, think Dirt 1 to 3. However, I liked the career mode here better and it's certainly a more interesting layout overall compared to the stale and bland Dirt 4 of recent years.

Car selection is varied with quite a few fairly rare models, but the overall number is fairly small. Every car has a modelled interior and the camera angles can be tweaked to your liking in the options menu, which is a welcome sight. They even let you have manual control over headlights and the wipers in-game. I enjoy attention to detail like that. Racing environments featured is the classic list of rally settings; pine forest gravel roads, snowy tracks, deserts and muddy jungles to name the most obvious.


Graphics and technical


Nothing out of the ordinary visually, developers Kylotonn have used their own WRC game engine and dived into adding a little more arcade styled environments. There are airplanes and helicopters buzzing by, very colourful fields of flowers and some cool buildings along the tracksides. It's clear to see that they have gone beyond the typical WRC games with their fairly bland rally scenery to deliver more memorable and distinct variations of rally locations. Xbox One X sees a solid boost to native 4K@30fps over the 1080p@30fps on base consoles. Sadly a 60fps target would have been real nice in a racing game like this, PC players can indulge though. Otherwise the sharp resolution on this X version shows off quite a bit of detail put into scenery and textures.

VR 4 is not a racer that will lead the pack visually in any way but overall it works nicely and shows some flair when elements like weather effects and interesting scenery all coincide to show off a real pretty view now and then. I was happy with how it looked.


Sound and music


Growling and punchy car sounds, I really like the distinct turbo sound of these powerful rally cars, especially the hill climbing monsters. Same with sound effects of the actually gravel and road being driven on. Music wise the game is bad. There's literally like one single rap song that plays over and over in the menus. I was so bored by it I had to turn it off in the end, kinda disappointing when the old V-Rally games had some cool tunes. No music is used in races, but that is fine in a rally racer as you are mostly listening to the co-driver reading directional notes anyway.





Summary


I came in expecting a game that was low budget and a shadow of it's former self, simply bearing just it's name. Indeed I still feel it was an odd decision to resurrect this old franchise which wasn't exactly blowing the minds of many back in it's prime. I guess V-Rally 2 will always be the champion with strong reviews and most sales. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see quite a bit of that old V-Rally DNA going into VR4 and what seems like a lot of passion put in here. It actually really does feel and look like what I'd expect V-Rally to do in modern times.

As such I enjoyed playing it quite a bit, it never completely blowed me away or anything, but it just does it thing well. It's a fine rally racer balanced between arcade and simulation, not taking itself too serious in it's simulation attempts and offers a solid career mode to manage a rally career in. While the handling might not be everyone's cup of tea with it's sensitive and unforgiving approach, I can recommend it to old V-Rally players and those seeking something similar to the older Dirt games.

Rating

★★★★

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Diorama puzzles with mushrooms

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker



Platform tested: Switch
Also on: Wii U and 3DS
Released: 2018
Original release: 2014

Review


Introduction


Captain Toad Treasure Tracker is a spin-off idea from Super Mario 3D World on the Wii U, it's about solving puzzles to collect treasures in small diorama-inspired 3D levels. It was originally released for the Wii U, but has this year received a port to the Switch and 3DS. Launched at a lower price point than full and considering the size of the game; I picked it up on Nintendo's eShop digitally. I have been curious about this title and having a more laid-back and relaxed game to play on a handheld.

This year has even seen the addition of an extra DLC pack of levels and a free two-player added for good measure. Lets take a exploration trip around Captain Toads tiny and cute levels!




Plot and setting 


Captain Toad follows a simple layout, each level contains three hidden diamonds and a star that ends the level. Each level has an extra objective that gets disclosed after completing a level; sometimes there's a golden mushroom to find or a certain amount of moves to be made or enemies to avoid. It helps keep variety and new ways to play each level other than simply finding the diamonds. Added into the mix to replay levels is a 2D Toad sticker to find by tapping on it with either the cursor or the touchscreen. In other words there's a fair share of replay value to all levels.

Each level looks like a 3D cut out of a little landscape and has a charming diorama look to it, with some lovely Mario inspired fantasy locations. The size of each level is perfect for short gameplay bursts and suits the handheld nature of the Switch.


Gameplay and features 


The campaign eases you into the main game mechanics with an introduction level, and then gradually increases to more advanced puzzles and level layouts. Gaining diamonds grants you access to new levels that are unlocked in a menu stylised as a book, with each page being a level. Bonus levels turn up now and then between pages too, giving you the chance to earn more lives. Getting to the ending credits requires you only to complete the first book, there are however three books to complete with increasingly difficulty. There's a fair amount of value for money here. Completing the game will earn you even more bonus levels and then there's a fairly cheap DLC book to with levels available too!

The gameplay is calm and laid back, making Captain Toad a lovely game to relax in the comfort of your favourite chair and just enjoy playing at your own pace. The required platforming skills are not at the high precision and fast speed of traditional Mario games, the key here is the puzzle of finding all treasures in each level. I would say the game suits any age regardless of much gaming experience and skill. Although the youngest players will probably not have the patience for puzzle solving.

There's even recently been added a two player mode. Where two Toads can complete the level together. My wife and I found this mode a little confusing as both players can control the camera, which needs to be moved around the diorama a lot to spot secrets. We settled with the two player mode that lets one player control Toad with one horizontal joycon, while player two controls the camera and onscreen pointer with a vertical joycon. Player two can shoot at enemies too, which makes this coop mode even easier!


Graphics and technical


I found the visuals incredibly charming and cute. You can zoom in and rotate the camera to reveal hidden areas to reach on each level, typically you see hidden caves underneath the cut-out sectors of sand and earth. There's a great variety in environments too, relaxing beach levels, spooky night settings, desert layouts etc. The artwork and work put into it is lovely and once again sets Nintendo as a leader when it comes to making colourful and cute Pixar like worlds with their roster of Mario inspired characters.

In portable mode Captain Toad runs at the Wii U resolution of 720p, while the docked mode ups the game to a clearer and crisper 1080p for your TV. That's a nice boost in resolution for a bigger screen and complete with a 60fps framerate Captain Toad looks very sharp and clean, especially when the visuals are made to look this block like way. It's a very distinct and satisfying look to the game when considering it's puzzle nature.



Sound and music


There's a great music score in Captain Toad which brings back lots of old Super Mario inspired melodies. I got nostalgic hearing themes that remind me Mario 64 and even Super Mario 3 tunes. I really liked some of the soothing tunes on darker levels and even the more psychedelic like tunes too. Characters and items have the funny, and by now expected, Mario-like sounds.




Summary


I didn't really find anything I disliked in Captain Toad, the game offers everything you need within it's game idea. I perhaps could have done without the stressing mine cart levels, as these seem to be gimmicky added levels. I would also have liked to see the onscreen cursor hidden away when not moving. In fact, I found the whole cursor thing slightly more cumbersome in docked mode compared to using the touchscreen in portable mode, so consider that when playing. The game was intended for touchscreen on the Wii U after all. The coop two-player mode aides this a bit though as player two can take care of the cursor.

I found Captain Toad a perfect title to take a relaxing departure from fast paced modern titles. The puzzles are at a nice balance between visual and logic thinking, making them a little tricky but never overwhelming. The beautiful look of the game with it's charming soundtrack and level design make Captain Toad highly recommended from me. While it's probably of no interest to the owners of the Wii U version, it's a nice chance for Switch players to enjoy it, and unlike the Wii U version this game is actually portable and really suits it! One of last years most enjoyed games, that continues to add fun with new levels and two-player mode this year!

Rating

★★★★

Monday, 18 February 2019

Katanas, demons and samurai warlords.

Onimusha: Warlords HD




Platform tested: Xbox One X (no enhancements)
Also on: PC, PS4 and Switch
Released: 2019
Original release: 2001 (PS2) and 2002 (Xbox)

Review


Introduction


To call Onimusha: Warlords a Resident Evil spin-off would be kind of wrong, but it really does lend itself in design and structure close to it's survival horror stallmate. Indeed it was even originally planned by Capcom to be released on the PS1, but made the move over to PS2 instead. The upgraded hardware would make the game look better than the RE PS1 games and give players a chance for the same game structure as the RE series, which had back then moved over to be exclusive on the Gamecube.

The series would spawn many iterations and even spin-offs, but this HD version is about the very first game in the series and the only one I personally played back in the day. I don't recall the game to be super memorable like the old Resident Evil games, but I do remember enjoying playing through it way back on the PS2. Lets go back in for this HD remaster and replay it.




Plot and setting 


The game lends it's story to Japanese myths and folklore, setting it in Sengoku period in Japan, where you control a samurai named Samanosuke. This setting is great departure from the modern times RE games and makes the series set itself clearly apart. Although what seemingly in the intro is a grounded game set in this time period, it quickly turns into a more mythology experience with demons and monsters taking over a town and need defeating. It's an interesting plot for sure and makes way for some cool and creepy monster enemies that you fight with Katana swords and bows. You alternate at times through the story to play a more fast paced ninja woman called Kaede, this makes for a nice alternation of speed and pace. The pre-rendered backdrops depict ancient Japanese town and buildings, with interiors showing traditional buildings from those medieval times inside. It's an interesting and historic setting for sure.

Gameplay and features 


The game controls very much like a traditional RE game, yes I'm talking tank controls. While I feel this more melee based game perhaps gets a little slow and cumbersome with this control scheme, the HD version at least features an added 3D mode control setup. Just like REmake HD though, this control scheme makes the game easier and much less in need of protecting yourself with the sword to parry away attacks. The 3D controls let you instantly run away in the opposite direction to avoid attacks, a little cheating considering the original design of the game if you like. I perhaps feel that in a sword based game the 3D controls just seem more suiting, if you however want to go traditional, the old tank controls are of course available on the d-pad.

Otherwise there are various swords to collect, health and power attack bars to upgrade. As well as items to aid your fights and give permanent upgrades. Each type of sword is suited for certain enemies and pace of battle that suits the player. One sword is slow and powerful, while another is fast but takes less damage for instance. There's also a bow and arrow to use, but I never really bothered much with it as it felt cumbersome to use.

The game features a soul system, where defeated enemies drop either upgrade XP, health or power attack souls. These can be summoned by the player and collected, then in turn used to upgrade stuff at save points. It's a nice system and keeps the option available for the player to avoid using health items and instead collect health souls from defeated enemies. It gives a little more depth and tactics to the gameplay too.

Graphics and technical


Onimusha follows in Resident Evil REmake's vein as the background pre-rendered images are clearly from a fairly low-resolution source. REmake at least had some 3D foilage added to enhance some of the areas, Onimusha does not. It can look quite grainy on large HD screens. The 3D models look of course better with the higher resolution, but lack any good anti aliasing solution seemingly and can look sharp  and jaggy around edges, even more so as they stick out even further when the backgrounds are stuck in a lower resolution.

There are some cool techniques in the backdrops that can be admired years later mind you, with moving water and machinery instead of completely static backgrounds. But alas, it's a fairly cheaply upscaled port, so expect nothing graphically to impress much and please stay clear of the 16:9 mode, it crops the picture like the REmake HD version. Stick with 4:3 format and black side borders, that's just how games were made back then. If you are fairly into retrogaming though, you'll have no problem with the graphics, they do they're job nice enough!

All in all it's at least much sharper and cleaner output than running a PS2 on a HDTV. Although this game probably is best played on a smaller screen, the Switch in handheld seems like an ideal place for it. I must mention that the game runs in 60fps, which is nice for smoother gameplay and the doors hardly have any loading compared to the old RE games.

Sound and music


Sound quality is like it used to be, nothing major and clearly from the PS2 era. Music score has been completely replaced as Capcom's scandal of the "deaf Beethoven" guy who stole music to put in Capcom games was the original fake composer. However the replaced soundtrack is familiar style to anybody that enjoys the old Resident Evil scores. Giving the player a creepy tone not only from the visuals but also in the background music. I quite enjoyed the soundtrack and it's RE vibes.





Summary


I sure would have liked a more quality port of the game; better use of effects and graphics to enhance the backgrounds and rather rough looking 3D characters. A patch for the X running everything in 4K would have helped the aliasing issues at least on the 3D models. Then again I never expected Onimusha to get a sudden port to current gen consoles and I am happy for them doing so in a state that works fine. We can perhaps hope for a port of Onimusha 2 and 3 too down the line Capcom?!

A  budget ported job then, it breaks nothing but adds nothing visually either, all in all a good game stays good and Onimusha is fun to play and features an atmospheric world to sink into. It's be no means a very long game to complete, maybe 6-8 hours, but it brings with it a nostalgic old-school Resident Evil feeling and blends it with the days of Samurais and Shoguns. I enjoyed my revisit many years later from playing the PS2 version, but it's mostly for the old fans and RE players that have missed out on this title I feel. Not for everyone then, but those that are into the style, gameplay type and structure will find a pleasant game to play.

Rating

★★★★

Sunday, 17 February 2019

An odyssey in a hat

Super Mario Odyssey



Platform tested: Switch
Released: 2017

Review: The Mario platforming franchise has spanned over numerous games and consoles through the years; even splitting itself into sub-genres. We have 2D Super Mario Bros. all the way back to the glory days of the 8-bit NES in the 1980s (!) right up until the modern 3D visual takes on them in New Super Mario Bros., we have the isometric 3D style from last generations Super Mario 3D World and then we have the fully 3D Mario platforming games. The latter sub-genre is where Odyssey neatly falls into line behind Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine and the two Super Mario Galaxy games. While not entirely being a crucial sequel story, Mario Odyssey is a familiar affair for those that have played previous Mario fully 3D games.

SMO goes alongside the Zelda: Breath Of The Wild as the two main heavy hit launch titles for Nintendo's latest hardware, the Switch. Nintendo has always tried to launch with at least one of it's own and strongest in-house titles to sell a hardware. What better way to do so than with this latest Mario game? It's bigger, bolder and packed with tons of new ideas. The game even dares to venture, albeit in fairly moderate form factor, into the open world sandbox genre. It helps give us an idea of what Mario 64 would have been if each world was twenty times larger. Does the old plumber hold up, even with the mighty game creator Shigeru Miyamoto taking a step back from being a producer and takign the role of creative director? Let's put on a red hat and jump into a green pipe for closer look.




SMO tells the story of Mario and Cappy, the latter is a ghost which can transform into hats that in turn give Mario the body of the characters you throw the hat at. The story sees them pitched together as a team to take down Bowser and his evil rabbit henchmen. Bowser has kidnapped Princess Toadstool as well as Cappy's sister and you've guessed it: you need to rescue them yet again. So far it's all old tricks and Mario traditions, hardly eye openers, but the presentation of cutscenes are done really charming and beautifully thanks to the fantastic character and animation design. Alongside Mario Kart 8, Nintendo have really reached that desired Pixar style of 3D animation.

Once you get going on to the gameplay, you quickly realise that SMO feels like what you remember 3D Marios are to play, but with far more movement options. The hat theme which allows you to transform into enemies may seemingly sound like a gimmick, but it's implemented in a fantastic fashion. There are tons of enemies to transform into and each one has a a unique moveset and function. In fact, they are key to traversing the levels and finding all the hidden moons. Being an enemy character allows you to stretch to new heights, throw projectiles, jump further or breathe under water; the whole game is cleverly designed around the feature. Bringing variety to the gameplay too, as you are not stuck with just playing Mario's moveset. You'll quickly find your favourite enemy to transform into in each world!

Every world has a uniqiue theme and design to them. We have a tropical dinosaur land, a Mexican inspired desert, a cold icy winterland, a tropical jungle and a sunset drenched beach to mention some. Every world has a large amount of moons to discover, each one being a traversal of gameplay challenge to reach. Sometimes they are straight up bosses and places to climb to, other times they require an enemy transformation and a good deal of skill and thought to collect. I like that the game is fairly easy to reach the end credits of, requiring a fairly low number of total moons, while collecting everything is a huge undertaking. Getting absolutely all the moons will challenge even the most veteran Mario players. There's so much fun in the variety of platforming, putting the platforming competitors on the market to shame in it's sheer amount of gameplay value and depth. It's really unrivalled!

Visually, Mario Odyssey is probably one of the strongest titles on the Switch. The variety in settings and the smoothness of the game running mostly stable at 60fps compensates for the somewhat blurry output of 900p when playing docked on a TV. It would have been nice to see it reach 1080p, but the high framerate helps keep everything crisp and sharp enough considering the resolution. For the handheld mode it reaches the crucial 720p for native resolution on the Switch screen. I really like the colourful visual variety in characters and the worlds you reach. The cartoony visuals make Odyssey a treat to play and a nice step up from previous Mario 3D games when you consider the large size of each world. There's also a healthy amount of graphical effects like reflections, particles and surface textures used to further enhance the visual artwork on display. Soundwise there's a lovely set of classic Mario music and even a huge grand jazz like theme song to unlock in New Donk City.




There's really nothing to point out as major negatives here, I mean it's a game that's leading the pack when it comes to it's genre. You'll find few other titles on PS4, Xbox One or even on the Switch with this kind of value for gameplay hours. Sure, you can wish there was a more powerful console running Mario and making it look even flashier, but the actual game just does everything you'd wish for in 3D platformer genre that's really not as popular as it's glory days of the 90's. That said, the gimmicky two-player mode though; don't be fooled it's complete rubbish for player two. It's basically assisting the first player with commandeering Cappy. 

The 3D platforming genre then, is firmly in Nintendo's hand, regardless of it's mainstream popularity or not, and it excels the competition on so many levels. You'll struggle to find a more perfect game to play for the whole family even if you're just remotely interested in the genre . It's a blueprint for a game that appeals to such a vast majority of gamers, casual or hardcore will be charmed and entertained by the variety and strong focus on good gameplay. It's an absolute must-buy for the Switch, if not the one game you have to simply on the system. SMO is an excellent platformer and once again keeps Mario many a step over the competition.

Rating

★★★★

Friday, 1 February 2019

Deluxe karting after eight

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe



Platform tested: Switch
Released: 2017

Review: Mario Kart 8 was originally released on the Wii U back in 2014, and is the first of what has become many Wii U ports to the Switch. A nice gesture of Nintendo, as the Wii U's moderate sales success delivered some fantastic titles that deserve to be introduced to new Switch owners too. I only played MK8 briefly on a friend's Wii U, so I was glad to pick this game up alongside my Switch purchase this year. After all, your Nintendo needs a Mario Kart!

Through the years I have played most of the main MK iterations; MK on the SNES, MK64, MK Double Dash on the GameCube and MK Wii. The latter being a disappointment in my eyes, while I do have a soft spot for MK64, the version I have without doubt put most hours into. I also have fond memories of Double Dash, coop driving in one car is still a wonderful idea! This time though, we have alongside the handheld releases arrived at Mario Kart's eight iteration, with this deluxe version upgraded for Switch from 720p to 1080p in docked mode, complete with all track DLC's from the Wii U version. There's a lot of content for value here.




MK8 mixes kart racing, anti-gravity hovering and hangglider gliding on it's generous amount of tracks. While I enjoy the hanggliding jumps, the anti-gravity stuff looks a bit gimmicky. It is however, necessary to make MK8's insane track designs work; more often than not you're racing vertically, upside down or in cork screws. It makes for some incredibly clever track designs, but adds nothing to the actual gameplay and seeing the car hover makes the feeling of actually cruising on tarmac a little weird for me. Nonetheless, switching from racing on wheels to anti-gravity is nothing you'll notice in the controls.

Like I mentioned, there are tons of tracks to race in this deluxe version, taking inspiration from typical Mario locations, old MK classics are remade too. Each track sports a colourful and beautiful design with a ton of small details along the track sides and in the backgrounds.

The charming visuals add to the track detail too, almost Pixar-like in animation cuteness and detail.  All the characters you can choose and their in-game animations when they hit someone or crash is high quality stuff, making replays running in slow motion hilarious. This combination of charming CGI like characters and super detailed fantasy worlds, further shows how great the visual artists at Nintendo are with a fairly limited powered console. The end result is great and consistent looking game.

I really appreciate that Nintendo have it run in 60fps too, helping it keep the picture crisp and smooth. A high framerate is always positive for a racer with a lot of fast moving objects and keeping the controls tight and responsive. The 60fps is retained for the two player splitscreen, but drops to 30 if your are playing three or four players. Splitting the screen four times and dropping to 30 with all that track detail and effects going on though, makes for a little cluttered and limited view. I would think playing four player in handheld mode would be a tiresome on the small Switch screen.




Although I feel this title is a certain must-buy for the system, especially as a title to bring out for multiplayer with friends, I have issues with it. The first is related to the amount of weapons and some of their almost unblockable features. In MK64 you could avoid things easier, like stopping a banana skid, avoid a first place shell easier and avoid lightning. There's just too many types of weapons, making them blend into a jumble of randomness. I felt MK64 had more strategy to it's more distinct and minimalist weapon set. The wheel and chassis options complete with stupid stats seem like a meaningless idea pulled over from a simulator racer. Do we really need anything else but small, medium and large characters in a game where I'm racing a koopa in moo-moo farm, not a Aston Martin on Silverstone.

The battle mode is once again terrible. All the strategy and a feeling of competitive multiplayer deathmatch is taken away as you respawn infinitely and drive stupid circuit inspired arenas in a chaotic mess. Once again MK64's balance in battle was perfect with specific battle levels built for the purpose of battling.

The actual main campaign progress of MK8 feels a little checkbox orientated with incentive to complete them. Sure you get a gold cup icon and car parts, but all in all you just need to win every race in first place in every cup. It's just ticking off a list and rapidly becomes tiresome. The focus on perfecting each race with a gold takes away the point of having a cup with a total amount of points for winning anyhow. The 200cc option added to this deluxe version also seems like a broken mess, it simply runs to quickly compared to what the driving physics and tracks are designed for. 

I'm left loving the visuals, the driving  and the large amount of tracks/cars/characters, but there are issues I have with the weaponry, the cheap A.I., the checkbox nature of the main mode and the broken battle game. Like MK Wii, the lack of options hurt the game from making a deeper singleplayer and coop experience, there isn't even a proper team racing options other than joining a red and blue team. Why?

I'm complaining quite a bit here and don't get me wrong it's an excellent Mario Kart, it's just that it could go so much further in making more options to tailor a better experience for the long haul. All we get are repetitive cups over and over in a grid, that have to be played five times over in 50cc, 100cc, 150cc, backwards, and if you want to punish yourself with a broken mess; 200cc. It's such a shallow game layout for such a high budget game on visuals and gameplay.

I recommend it nevertheless as it delivers in even better form what we expect and have gotten used to from a MK game, especially for multiplayer races. Just don't expect the actual game layout to be anything other than a list of gold cups, but what more can we expect from a kart racer? If you're happy with the simplified choices and copy paste layout from the previous games then MK8 will be wonderful.

Rating

★★★★